Georgia N. is currently a junior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Lovett School in Georgia.
I’m frequently asked by friends, family members, and anyone else checking in from home to tell them the moments that I knew; I’m asked when I knew this decision was right, when I began to feel at home, and for the moment I realized how much has changed. Staring at my ceiling and listening to these questions over speakerphone and imagining the people I care about on the other end, I wish I could find answers for them, and yet I fall short every time. The thing about an experience like SYA is that there are no single “moments”; everything is an incomprehensible and personal process made up of a million “moments”, a million realizations and experiences and thoughts that slowly weave themselves into something larger.
These little moments feel sometimes like nothing at all, their importance only being realized much later on after being one of many moments contributing to a larger change; they range from conversations to reactions, and from new impulses to new habits. For me, these changes have been a new boldness, the fact that I’m not afraid of failure, successful trial and error in French, and being adapted to new habits. I cannot pin exact moments when I realized these changes, but rather some of the little ones that I’m sure added into them.
One noticeable change has been how comfortable I am now with being an American in Rennes. Beginning this program, I spent a lot of energy trying to pass perfectly for French, from my actions to my accent; though this is a perfectly respectable goal, I found I was afraid to put myself out there or ask for help because of this. My fear of being pegged for what I am was slowing my growth and hurting my experience.
Now, though I still work for my accent and assimilation, I do it with an open mind. For example, I am not afraid to mess up, I ask to be corrected when I do, and I explain that I am an American student when I don’t understand or cannot find my words. This is always well received and people’s willingness to help and interest in my situation leads to richer conversations. I have improved so much simply by being okay with my shortcomings and asking for help rather than hiding them, and I think that’s a big part of what SYA is about. Yet, I couldn’t peg the moment that I knew, even if I tried, as this is just one of the many changes built by hundreds of significantly insignificant moments that I only now see the importance of.
And yet, there are the memorable moments, too, and experiences I feel instantly proud of myself for or where I instantly feel their significance. Though they are all equally important, they are not all fond memories; I have had my fair share of embarrassment, frustration, and disappointment. However, it is the ways I’ve reacted to these hard times that I am proud of and it is in those moments that I have seen my growth.
This is an anecdote I tell often, as it is one of the funniest and most embarrassing moments of my life. It all began with a desperation for French friends and a pot of yoghurt… I’ll spare the details, but basically this attempt at friendly conversation ended just as soon as it began when I tripped and threw an open pot of yoghurt all across the table of French students we’d tried to approach… yeah, not wildly proud of this one. Instantly, my friend and I broke down laughing and returned with napkins to clean our mess, but despite my embarrassment, I was incredibly proud; I had done something incredibly scary (approach the French kids) and it played out in the absolute worst case scenario, but I was still alive, and laughing. I had beat a fear, in a sense, as I’d seen that putting myself out there, no matter how terribly it goes, I will be okay, despite that I may never outlive the nickname “yoghurt girl.”
For all of those wondering, no, I did not leave this interaction with any new French friends, nor do I recommend it as a good approach to meeting some (as I said, a key part of this was desperation) but I left with the ability to laugh at myself when something goes wrong and a new confidence in being bold, seeing as I’d sort of already seen the worst of it and had nothing else to lose. You’ll be happy to hear that after learning this lesson, I have been bolder and put myself out there in more rewarding ways that I never would have before for fear of failure.
I’ve had good moments, too, though, like the late-night conversations I’ve had with my friends, being recognized by the barista at my favorite café, and being approached by French students in my art class and realizing that they really are not scary at all.
In brief, I’ve changed a lot so far for the better, both through big and small experiences, through the good and through the bad. Though I may not be able to peg the moments I have come to some realizations as easily as others, them being gradually reinforced by hundreds of little experiences, I know that, looking back, it all builds up to shape my experience, and every second in this unique and fleeting year, counts.